The past two weeks we’ve focused on hides that stymied my dogs in a training I did at home with them. I realised that we had challenges with hides that were elevated AND deep. It started with me setting a hide in Craig’s office, an area I rarely use, and I decided to just put one hide out in a place I don’t normally use – his desk. I chose a little drawer on the desk, that sits back off the edge of the desk. And this was soooo challenging for them! I ended up pairing it after Quattro searched for 5-6 minutes. I was expecting he would put his front paws on the desk and reach w/ his nose toward the drawer, although I underestimated both All Wheel Drive “Quattro“ and Let Me Show You How It’s Done “Coach” – both ended up ON the desk to source odor!
I decided since this was such a challenge, I should set up some more similar style hides and see if it was the particular hide that was challenging, or if it was the type of hide that was the challenge. High and deep was my theme, and I set up 3 hides in the basement that would meet that criteria.
One hide was on a shelf that had Klimbs (basically Klimbs are tables the dogs climb on) stacked below. They could jump up a couple levels to access the hide, but, from the floor, the tables in front of the hide made the hide deep, **note: I end up rewarding him just below source, one, because I could barely reach, and two, because he’d been searching for a looooong time and I wanted to reward all his efforts, and three, I was sure the odor was dropping into the wrapping paper just below source. He does end up putting his nose up a bit to source
The second hide was on a shelf that they could just barely touch if they were on their hind legs. The tricky part was, it was on the side of a shelf, that was next to another shelf, that had a small entrance / gap in between. The dogs could easily fit in there, but, because the hide was deep, they had to work a bit to figure that out.
The third hide was supposed to be the recovery, easy hide. Ha! Famous last thoughts. This was nose-touchable, but was behind some plastic cones. Not a problem, my dogs would lean over the cones to get to source… or so I thought. Well, I didn’t take into account that the furnace and hot water heater were right there, producing warm air, which caused the odor to rise. This was way harder than I’d meant it to be! The odor was rising away from source and dropping and collecting elsewhere. The dogs had a very hard time following it back down to source.
The other thing I noticed about the hide placements, was that they were in complicated spaces. In other words, LOTS of STUFF for the odor to cling to, drop into, drift and land on. How to mimic that in class? Time to take a field trip out of the classroom!
My 9:30a class had the “cat kitchen” available to use, and we got one run in the 11a class before Ann came in to work in there. The “cat kitchen” has a counter w/ cupboards under it on one side of a narrow room, and on the other side, is a shelf similar to the one in my basement, plus a vacuum / Zamboni thing, along with some other “stuff”. Not to mention the empty bags of cat food on the floor, the cat beds, cat food prep area… in other words, LOTS of interesting smells that are not birch, anise or clove.
My hope was that the previous weeks searches would provide a good foundation for the dogs to build off of. We’d done “simple” container hides, but added food and toy distractions. We’d done the ‘chair serpentine’, that had the dogs problem solving and working hard to get to source. That background helped carry thru to this complicated area, with challenging hides. Note I only did one hide at a time, I did not need to add to the complexity by adding multiple hides.
For the 11a class, once we got booted from the cat kitchen, I used the utility closets. Densely packed, small areas that basically only the dog could fit in. For the 12:15p class, this whole concept was something very different for them to work thru, so we used the slightly bigger, but still small, agility equipment closet.
I realized I had forgotten my treats in the car, and I also realized that I should have paired the hides in these complex environments. I did borrow some for the 12:15p class, which helped, but there were some long, challenging searches for all classes!
Because these sessions showed that we still needed work in this area, and because some people were absent this week, we repeated the basic exercises the following week. This time, I started w/ some basic chairs folded leaning agains the wall, and we worked on pinpointing a hide that was unseen by the dogs, but was slightly over their natural reach. I also put some chairs in front of the folded chairs, making a slight obstruction to get to source. The dogs were very persistent here! They worked hard to get under, behind, around chairs to get their noses on source, which is something that is needed in complex areas.
After that warm up, we moved into the cat kitchen or utility / agility closets, where I paired the hides. The dogs seemed much more confident in these areas, and much more focused on their work than the previous week. While there was still some distracted sniffing, my hope is that the handlers can recognize when their dogs are sniffing distractions, sniffing because they are curious, or actually sniffing to hunt for target odor. Hopefully the containers with distractions helped in that area.
One thing I noticed, is many people only giving one or two treats after their dogs ignored (or worked thru) all those distractions and worked their way to source. When you watch me reward my dogs, I give LOTS of treats at each hide, and make a big deal verbally when they’ve found the hide. Studies have shown that dogs respond and retain information that is learned better when they are given treat after treat in quick succession, rather than a big treat, or a handful all at once. I couldn’t find the link to that study, but this link on dopamine, motivation and being happily surprised at an outcome is interesting and pertains to dog training: https://today.uconn.edu/2012/11/uconn-researcher-dopamine-not-about-pleasure-anymore/# Basically, dogs will have more motivation to work harder, when they’ve experienced increased levels of dopamine. Every time they eat, their dopamine increases (like us). Therefore, the more treats they are getting, the higher their dopamine, the more motivated they will be to work longer at a harder problem. So when you present a dog with a challenging problem, having motivation to work hard to get to the end result is important to their success.
Ok, on to your videos!
9:30a Class 2/3/21
11a Class 2/3/21 – one run in the cat kitchen, 1 run in each closet
12:15p Class 2/3/21
2/10 11a Class Week 2
You’ll notice some dogs seem to have no problem with this set up, while others really struggle. My bad, for those who struggled, I should have realized the actual hide placement needn’t be that complicated, it was more that about getting those dogs comfortable in this new area and finding odor quickly and easily. I should have abandoned my “high and deep” goal when I saw the dogs struggling. For those of you who made this look easy, congratulations! Feel good about your success, as you can see it really WASN’T that easy. Some dogs missed week one, and that makes a difference, too. The more the dogs realize they can find and get rewarded for finding odor anywhere, even in a utility closet, they will become more efficient hunters. The successful dogs mostly have a lot more experience in various locations, and you can see how that helps. And lastly, don’t forget to be generous in your rewards!! I want the reward to be a punctuation on a job well done, not a snatch and chomp afterthought.
Happy sniffing, in new places with lots of stuff around!!